Last Sunday night with my wife and our 9 year old boy I went to see our friends Sal and Angela Zavaglia
Sal has been ill for the past few years with cancer.My son has always looked up to him like a 3rd Grandpa.
In 1995 when our daughter was but a few months old we were looking for a caregiver to help us out with our new baby.The Westchester Child Care Council referred us to Angela . When we visited Angela to interview her as a prospective babysitter we knew right away that we had found the right person to help us raise our child.Angela offered us food,espresso,home made wine.It was a warm family atmosphere.
Angela was referred to as Nonna by the kids she cared for.Nonna is the Italian word for grandmother.
The kitchen is the center of activity in their home. Olivia our daughter quickly picked up the culture and language of her own Italian great- grandparents through her time spent with the Zavaglia's.
Sal and his son Tony ran a landscaping business and would spend their lunch hours with Angela,Olivia and her friend who I will call "Eve".Olivia and Eve became good friends at Nonna's.
Nonna and Sal's grandchildren visited from Canada and helped with Olivia and Eve.
Over the first 6 years they became our family.Olivia got bigger and did not require a caregiver yet we would still find time to bring her to Nonna's.Then our son was born and we started the cycle all over again. Our little guy became attached to the Zavaglia's and Sal would teach Matt about gardening and show him all the cool gadgets that they used in their landscaping business.
Nonna watched over Matt and Olivia with love and affection for the past 14 plus years.
Sal taught me how to make homemade wine. Sal also took me to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
The Bronx' Little Italy is a great place to shop for espresso,bread and cheeses from Italy.
I would say about fifty percent of my knowledge of Italian cuisine was given to me by my wife Sandra Spinelli and her family. The other fifty came from the Zavaglia's .
Sal is from Gioiosa in the Calabria region of Italy on the Ionian Sea .Nonna grew up in the next town.
From Italy to Larchmont.
Larchmont.......home of Wall Streeters . Home of the head of the US Treasury Secretary
Tim Geithner....Joan Rivers.....Lou Gehrig.....Norman Rockwell and our friends Sal and Nonna.
My son and my wife went up to the family room where Sal had been sleeping in their home .
Nonna told Sal that Matt our boy had come to see him .Sal reached out his hand for Matt and then my son hugged Sal.
Later that night at our house Matt could not fall asleep.He tried laying down with my wife but was still stirring.Then came down while I was watching Sunday Night Football.
I asked him if something was on his mind and walked him back up to his room .
As I tucked him in to bed he told me he was worried about what we were going to do if Sal died.
He started to cry. His whole body was shaking as he imagined a world without Sal.
When his crying subsided we spent some time talking about a similar talk I had with my mom when I was an eight year old.I had imagined life then without my parents and I remember feeling overwhelmed with sadness and fear.My mom helped to calm me down.Now it was my turn.
Mom passed away six years ago and when she died I felt the sadness of my eight year old self return.
As the week went on our world returned to it's normal routine. Late Thursday night as I was headed to sleep I noticed on our phone's caller ID that Nonna had called at 12:45 p.m. Thursday.It was too late to call their house so I figured that I would call in the morning.
I hoped it was Nonna taking me up on my offer to drive her somewhere or to pick up some stuff from the store. On Friday morning as I walked by the answering machine next to our computer I noticed a new message. I pressed the play button and my worst fears had come true.
Nonna was weeping her way through the message that Sal had died.She had taken the time to call us in her darkest hour.
Matt had woken up especially happy yesterday and I could not bring myself to tell him that his Sal was gone.I let Sandra know. Olivia had been without her cell phone for 10 days due to a bad battery.I had gotten it replaced by Sprint finally and handed it to her Friday morning.To a teenager being without their phone for a day is like a day of detox .Being without one for ten days is like detox boot camp
I didn't want to wipe the cell phone elixir euphoria off her face. But she had to know since her friends at school knew the Zavaglia's.When Sandra told her she was very upset.At school she did run into Sal and Nonna's next door neighbor and they commiserated about Sal.
Picking my son up at school was difficult .He was so happy and I knew that in one moment with one sentence sadness would be brought into his world.
I turned off the radio and put on some James Taylor." Winter,spring ,summer or fall .All you've got to do is call and I'll be there.You've got a friend".
It calmed my nerves. As my wife and daughter puled up to our driveway I knew Matt was about to to be saddened.It was best that we were all together .Matt took the news hard .Who wouldn't?
Last night we went by their house to drop off some food and spend time with their family .
I think Matt saw how Sal's family although very upset by his loss was still able to laugh and love each other and life would go on.Matt laughed a little .He cried some too. As we left their home he clutched my hand and we made our way home .He kept Sal's rosary card with him all night.Staring at his picture.
To Sal our dear friend. We will miss you. As your rosary card stated ," You are not gone but merely in the next room. When we speak of you we know that you will be with us always".
Rest in eternal peace.